Thursday, 30 May 2013

Body conscious, or, "Love Your Body"?

It seems to be universally accepted wisdom that a woman needs to 'love her body'. Just now I came across an article about a female photographer who took nude pictures of women who didn't 'love their bodies' and displayed them to the public, to help the women see what others saw.

I'm more than a little iffy about this whole business.

Gok Wan and his campaign to get the nation into the nude, one woman at a time? Well meaning I'm sure, but uh, please no.

Loving - what does that mean?

What kind of love are we talking about? The word has so many nuances... and the way some of these body-love campaigners put it sounds more like infatuation to me. Is it healthy to stand in the mirror and admire yourself? Be excited about seeing your reflection?

My body serves me very well and does
almost anything I ask...
it just has a real aversion to cold!
Or, what about the grasping, needy kind of love? Strut your stuff, show off your 'assets', because after all you love yourself? I understand this photographer meant it to help, but why do we need others to tell us they find us beautiful... if we are truly secure? It seems to me that those who shout the loudest about 'loving your body' are often encouraging the most insecure behaviour - showing 'what you've got' to others and expecting to be affirmed.

I don't love my body in that way. I don't stand in front of the mirror and admire what's there. I don't avoid mirrors, either; of course, I'll check to see how my clothes fit, and yes, I see things I don't like. No rose tinted 'bodylove' glasses for me! My body doesn't look perfect - without going into details here, but the fact is, nearly everyone deviates from today's beauty ideal in some way. I definitely do.

I do love my body in the Biblical sense: "No one ever hated his body, but they feed and care for it..." - without particular emotions, I do feed and care for my body. It serves me very well, every day, and I appreciate that!

Can't we just 'be', without any particular emotion?

Having admitted I do have my insecurities, I guard myself against making too many value judgements about how my body looks. I don't hide it, or any part of it, from my husband; and when he says he likes what he sees, I choose to believe him. He's the only one whose opinion about it matters; he's the only one who sees it all.

What I question, really, is this: why should we feel a particular way about our bodies at all? Perhaps that's... simply not necessary?

What a thought! All the marketing messages for a billion-dollar industry are... perhaps simply a bit silly?

There are so many things in my life I don't feel a particular way about. I observe them and make adjustments when necessary, but there's no emotion with that. Examples? My heartbeat (too fast? Slow down what I'm doing!), my digestion (problems? What did I eat?), my eyesight (all ok? Great!)... as to the idea that the way my body looks should evoke any particular feeling, I simply refuse to give this any mental space.

Life's too short!


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Making the most of the time

Being at home - not working outside home - is, to me, an exercise in learning to lead myself. And it's not that easy.

I have choices. What I do with my time is my own decision. I no longer have deadlines, my day is not structured for me as it was at school and at work. If I want structure, I have to create it. That's a huge shift to make - I've been either at school or at work all day since age 4!

Of course I haven't been at work seven days a week, but weekends off spent at home when working full time are different to every day being spent at home.

I could do nothing and spend every day on the couch, watching daytime TV. (Some Saturdays after a tough week's work, that's what I needed to do. Hurray for Saturday Kitchen!) That's not what I want to do. But the fact is that if I don't lead myself, if I don't put discipline into my day, then I won't have any: no one is going to check on me. That's as freeing as it is heavy with responsibility...

But it's not just (house-)work that won't happen if I don't organise myself; it's also people interaction. If I don't make the effort to reach out, put dates in the diary, and meet up with people, then I will be without people interaction all day. Again, at school or work this is ready made; with this gig, it's something I have to organise.

I can see that it would be easy to waste day after day, either on laziness or busy-ness, and miss the bigger picture: what am I here for? Is it just to keep house for my husband? That's but a small part of my work. The big picture, and the two main reasons I need to make the most of the time - my priorities, which should inform my daily structure - consists of these:

  • To help my husband. This means:
    • Creating a home environment where he can relax
    • Praying for him and supporting him in his own walk with God
    • Listening to him
    • Being there for him, loving him abundantly and being a source of joy to him
  • To impact this community. This means:
    • Getting to know the people in my community - neighbours, members of the church - and building relationships with them
    • Offering practical help where needed, when I can
    • Making my home a welcoming place for all who come, where they can relax
    • Living a joy filled life that shows something of God's fingerprints on it
I have a lot to learn, and practically, my current living situation is less than ideal - we're moving in less than four weeks' time (God willing) and the house is a mess, half-packed as it is, and hardly I place I feel like making a home of. But the big picture is always relevant. And that's why, if I have coffee with a new friend, I'm actually fulfilling my calling - not wasting time, but making the most of it.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mother's Day, everywhere else

Today it's mother's day, everywhere except here in the UK. All my American friends are talking about it on Facebook, honouring their mothers.

Since 1996, I have pretty much ignored Mother's Day. I never once went to my mother's grave to put flowers there, not on Mother's Day, not on any other day. My father's mother, my gran, demanded gifts/gratitude on Mother's Day and I would usually indulge her. But my own mother, I didn't see any point in marking that day.

My mother, long before me
Frankly, I still don't - after all, she's not around - but so many of my friends' Facebook comments made me think. People thanking their mums for love, support, patience. Not things I received much of from mine; and that's not a bitter comment, because I loved her to death, but a simple truth.

My mother wasn't willing to be a mum. It simply was not what she wanted out of life.

Her idea of living well was to be free - and a mother is forever (or at least for 16+ years) bound to her children. She felt caged. She didn't embrace the idea of loving, nurturing, supporting these needy beings that had entered her world; our needs were a burden to her, dragging her down, holding her back. I was very self-sufficient and independent by a very young age, because she encouraged that: it meant that our needs suffocated her less.

Because of us, her work life suffered. We sometimes kept her from being able to go to evening events. Or we got sick and she couldn't go to work. Work - teaching music - was what her life and ambition was about. If we wanted love and attention, we needed to enter her world: once I was old enough to learn to play, she took an active interest in me. I was never enthusiastic about the music, but I was desperate for her presence and her approval... perhaps more so than my sister was, who was content being more or less ignored by her and instead forged a stronger relationship with our father.

I have always said I didn't want children. Mostly that's because I was frightened I might react in a similar way to the incessant needs a child hangs onto you with: that I'd flee, need to get away, the way my mum did into her work. I've come a long way from that place; even though at some level the fear is still there, I don't reject children any more. Three reasons for that:

  • I have been completely changed on the inside since becoming a Christian and I'm simply not who I was. Her upbringing of me doesn't define me now.
  • If God gives us children, I don't have to rely on my own strength, which I know won't be enough. I have access to all the strength I need by leaning into Him. My mother never had that.
  • I'm not on my own, and I'm not in an abusive relationship like she was. I have a loving, capable, supportive husband - and with him by my side, I can just begin to imagine motherhood.